Nigerians are Turning to Herbs as Drug Prices Skyrocket 
Home News Nigerians are Turning to Herbs as Drug Prices Skyrocket 
News - August 24, 2023

Nigerians are Turning to Herbs as Drug Prices Skyrocket 

The rising costs of drugs have compelled certain Nigerians to check out some more economical options like herbal medicine and natural drugs for their medical conditions.

A recent investigation that covers some pharmaceutical outlets in Lagos reveals that the cost of a Ventolin inhaler, commonly used to treat Asthma symptoms, now varies between N6,000 and N9,000, marking a significant increase from the range of N1,200 to N1,500 observed in January this year. 

Similarly, the price of a 625g Augmentin, used for bacterial infections, has increased to the range of N9,000 to N10,000 from its previous range of N5,000 to N6,000.

The cost of a single sachet of Paracetamol has also risen to a range of N200 to N300, an increase from the previous price of N100 to N150 while the price of Lonart DS 80mg/480mg, a medication used for malaria treatment, has increased to N2,400 to N2,600, from the previous price of N1,200 to N1,500.

Remedial Health, a company specializing in solutions for patient medical records, has indicated that the escalating inflation rate has resulted in a significant price surge for antimalarial medications like Artemether and Lumefantrine. These drugs have experienced a price increase of over 100%, soaring from an average cost of N1,200 per pack to N2,700 per pack.

Nigerians shift to traditional remedies

Facing the escalating costs of malaria drugs, some Nigerians have turned to traditional herbal remedies known as ‘agbo’ for relief. For instance, Ronke Ademola, a stylist based in Lagos, shared that due to financial constraints, she now relies on her own preparation of ‘agbo’ using ingredients like lemon grass, pineapple, and lime, which typically costs her around N1,000. She noted that this approach has proven effective, as her parents had successfully treated malaria with ‘agbo’ in the past. Although she occasionally resorts to conventional malaria medications for convenience, ‘agbo’ remains her solution of choice.

Also, Itohan Oseghale, a banker in Lagos, also expressed the impact of rising costs on his ability to afford medical necessities. His income hasn’t increased, making it difficult for him to purchase inhalers, which he typically uses for a two-week period depending on his attacks. In response, he has turned to consuming herbal remedies and some spices to aid in clearing his respiratory tract. He now realised the unexpected efficacy of these methods when the inflated inhaler prices compelled him to explore alternatives.

Nigeria relies on the importation of drugs

Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, heavily depends on imported medications, active pharmaceutical ingredients, and manufacturing equipment from countries including China, India, Malaysia, and the Netherlands.

Pharma West Africa, a significant pharmaceutical exhibition in Africa said that more than 70 percent of medicines consumed in Nigeria are imported. This reliance on imported drugs contributes significantly to the country’s total healthcare expenditure of $10 billion. 

As indicated on its website, the healthcare system in Nigeria faces the challenge of high out-of-pocket expenses, which can constitute up to 62 percent of the total healthcare spending. This is primarily attributed to the limited availability of health insurance coverage.

Nigeria has experienced two economic recessions within the past seven years, which have led to a reduction in foreign inflows and subsequently created liquidity difficulties in the country’s foreign exchange (FX) market.

During the previous year, the Nigerian naira faced a notable depreciation against the US dollar. Its value fell to as low as 448 naira per dollar from 157 naira per dollar in 2012 within the official market. In the parallel market, the naira’s depreciation was even more pronounced, dropping to 740 naira per dollar from its previous rate of 159 naira per dollar.

Naira devaluation in the past months

The devaluation of the naira in June resulted in a further escalation of the dollar’s cost, which climbed from N463.38 to N770.72 in the official market on Tuesday. Concurrently, the exchange rate surged to N900 in the parallel market.

Consequently, this upward shift in exchange rates has propelled the country’s headline inflation rate to its highest level in almost 18 years, reaching 24.08 percent in July compared to 22.79 percent in June, as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics. The World Bank’s July report indicated that inflation has driven an estimated four million additional Nigerians into poverty during the initial five months of this year. According to data from the International Trade Centre, a multilateral agency, the importation of pharmaceutical products into Nigeria experienced a consecutive decline, dropping to $1.05 billion in 2022 from $1.37 billion in 2021.

The increased costs of foreign exchange have reduced the quantities that can be imported on a regular basis. Tunde Akintoye, a pharmacist at Alpha Pharmacy, noted that his company’s import quantity has been halved due to high FX expenses.

This limited supply in the pharmaceutical sector is causing a shift towards alternatives like herbal remedies and natural drugs. The combination of elevated forex costs and import levies has made the import process more challenging.

The use of herbs as an alternate solution

Herbs constitute a diverse group of plants, excluding vegetables and other plants, that are consumed for their macronutrients and cherished for their savory or aromatic attributes. These plants have broad-ranging applications, from enhancing flavors in food to medicinal uses and fragrances, all valued for their therapeutic, medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities.

Common examples of herbs encompass basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, parsley, mint, cilantro, chives, dill, bay leaves, fennel, ginger, and turnip. An observable trend toward herbal medicine is emerging, accompanied by a growing interest in self-health management. 

Sam Ohuabunwa, former president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, notes the increasing adoption of personalized health management strategies and a shift towards natural approaches in managing health conditions.

Herbs historically have roots in Africa

Given the economic realities of the country, an increasing number of individuals are turning to locally available and cost-effective healthcare options, often accompanied by prayers for healing. Historically, traditional health practices were prevalent in Africa and Nigeria, but the arrival of the white colonizers and their medical interventions shifted these practices.

Amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a notable rise in the consumption of herbs like turmeric and ginger as a means to enhance immunity. Consequently, herb production witnessed a rise as farmers shifted towards cultivating ingredients such as ginger, turmeric, and lemongrass to meet the growing demand.

The global trend of using herbs, particularly ginger, to bolster the immune system during the pandemic has led to an increased demand for Nigeria’s ginger. Florence Edwards, the national president of the Ginger Growers, Processors, and Marketers Association, highlighted this surge in demand, noting that Nigeria’s ginger variety is renowned for its spiciness on a global scale.

Ginger and Tumeric’s natural abilities

Turmeric and ginger have been recognized by experts for their ability to inhibit inflammatory molecules linked to the origin of harmful viruses, thanks to their anti-inflammatory component known as curcumin.

In a study conducted in 2019 by Shengying An and Guanzhong Liu at the College of Animal Science & Technology, Hebei Agricultural University in Baoding, China, it was discovered that extracts from ginger possess antioxidant properties and serve as potent immune boosters.

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